What makes a film work?

July 4th, 2010 by Ron
The Script Blogger

As a writer understanding the reasons why some films work and others don’t is a necessary ingredient in writing your own material.

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Even a film that has only one person in it for the majority of its running time such as ” I Am Legend”, works not because of the story but because of the believability of the main character.

Obviously the performance of the actor plays a big part in that believability but the actor’s performance is only possible because of the craft of the writer in making the character interesting, intriguing and noticeable on paper, in the first place.space

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It is important to realise whatever your story idea for a script is, it is the characters that bring the story to life and to make that happen and hold the attention of an audience, your characters have to grow, change and develop as the story unfolds and earn the audience’s care.

Yes, the audience have to care about your characters; they have to connect with them.

When you think of films such as, The Godfather, Dances with Wolves, A Few Good Men, Jaws and Star Wars, what made them come to life was the characters who were part of the story.

It was the changes to the personality, disposition or maybe moral fibre of the main characters that made those films the compelling stories they were.

The Godfather was the story of Michael and the transformation of his character within the family.

From not wanting to be involved with the criminal ways of his father and brothers, to assuming responsibly as the head of the family and becoming the Godfather.

A role he despises in the opening of the film.

In Dances with Wolves a US Solider changes from a White man in an Indian’s world to an Indian in a White man’s world.

In a Few Good Men we see a young untested paper work lawyer, with a father complex stand up against a man who eats breakfast every day, less than a thousand yards from men who want to kill him.

Jaws, appears to be about a big fish when in reality it is about a weak inoffensive man finding hidden strength to deal with an impossible situation.

Not forgetting Sam Quint, scrapping his finger nails down a blackboard; it still echoes in my head 35 years after I first saw him do that on screen.

Star Wars gave us several characters and we, the audience, cared about them all; even two robots.

WHY?

In all of these films the characters had emotion, were memorable, believable, and they made us, the audience, care what happened to them.

And that’s the key. The audience must care what happens to your characters.

So, when you begin thinking about your lead character, think how you can make people care about him.

Now you as the writer will be creating a story which will become a vehicle for your lead character to ride in.

What ever your story idea is, whether it’s about Zombies, Vampires, WWII, Boy meets Girl, the OK Coral or two young guys finding five dead bodies in The Trunk of a car they’ve just stolen, to make your story believable you need characters people will want to see succeed in their journey.

Normally in the beginning, you just have an idea for a story that you believe could make a movie. As a writer you have to turn that idea into a story and that story has to have people that you the writer have to create.

Let’s say you manage all of this and end up with a script and luck is on your side and a studio is interested in making it. What are going to say when asked, tell me about your hero?

Where’s he come from, what’s his background, how do you see him?

Hang on. Isn’t that in the script.

Is it?

Think Spiderman. Like it or not, a considerable about of thought went into the background of Peter.

His family, his inaptitude with girls, his geekist intelligence and even his demeanour, some of this is shown to us, some of it is hinted at and the rest is how we see him from what we are shown.

For any film to really work the characters have to do the work. And that means actors.

The more material you give an actor the better their performance and the closer they will be to the character you created.

In Thelma and Louise the differences between them is quickly established at the start of the movie, but as the movie progresses the role of decision maker changes.

To create great characters the writers will have gone to great lengths to know them before they put the into their screenplays.

That probably entailed a story outline and character profiles.

I know this sounds like hard work and it is, but one thing that comes out of this is believable characters who others can believe in.

Another and possibly the most important thing is; as the writer know the characters you are writing about, picture them, what they look like, how they move and most importantly how they speak.

This helps when you create dialogue for them and because you know them that well, you can structure a change in their personalities as the story unfolds.

Even with earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes and other natural disasters, the event might make the initial news story, but it’s the stories of the survivors or ones that didn’t make it that makes the follow-up, the documentary or the movie.

Remember people watch movies that are about people going through events that they, the audience, really wouldn’t want to go through themselves or have success that they would like for themselves.

A good character is one your audience can relate to. So as the writer, the person who created the characters, you should know them better than anyone else.

As a member of an audience watching a movie, I’m watching a character being brought to life by and actor who, before the film was made, found out everything about the person they are portraying from the screenplay.

Sure Will Smith, Al Pacino, Kevin Costner, Tom Cruise, Jack Nicolson, Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis played an important part in bringing the characters mentioned to life.

Not forgetting the voices of Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker for the tin characters in space.

None of these actors made their characters up, they didn’t create their dialogue or invent the journeys we saw them make on the screen.

A screenplay writer did that.

The Script Blogger
Obviously the performance of the actor plays a big part in that believability but the actor’s performance is only possible because of the craft of the writer in making the character interesting, intriguing and noticeable on paper, in the first place.It is important to realise whatever your story idea for a script is, it is the characters that bring the story to life and to make that happen and hold the attention of an audience, your characters have to grow, change and develop as the story unfolds and earn the audience’s care.

Yes, the audience have to care about your characters; they have to connect with them.

When you think of films such as, The Godfather, Dances with Wolves, A Few Good Men, Jaws and Star Wars, what made them come to life was the characters who were part of the story.

It was the changes to the personality, disposition or maybe moral fibre of the main characters that made those films the compelling stories they were.

The Godfather was the story of Michael and the transformation of his character within the family.

From not wanting to be involved with the criminal ways of his father and brothers, to assuming responsibly as the head of the family and becoming the Godfather.

A role he despises in the opening of the film.

In Dances with Wolves a US Solider changes from a White man in an Indian’s world to an Indian in a White man’s world.

In a Few Good Men we see a young untested paper work lawyer, with a father complex stand up against a man who eats breakfast every day, less than a thousand yards from men who want to kill him.

Jaws, appears to be about a big fish when in reality it is about a weak inoffensive man finding hidden strength to deal with an impossible situation.

Not forgetting Sam Quint, scrapping his finger nails down a blackboard; it still echoes in my head 35 years after I first saw him do that on screen.

Star Wars gave us several characters and we, the audience, cared about them all; even two robots.

WHY?

In all of these films the characters had emotion, were memorable, believable, and they made us, the audience, care what happened to them.

And that’s the key. The audience must care what happens to your characters.

So, when you begin thinking about your lead character, think how you can make people care about him.

Now you as the writer will be creating a story which will become a vehicle for your lead character to ride in.

What ever your story idea is, whether it’s about Zombies, Vampires, WWII, Boy meets Girl, the OK Coral or two young guys finding five dead bodies in The Trunk of a car they’ve just stolen, to make your story believable you need characters people will want to see succeed in their journey.

Normally in the beginning, you just have an idea for a story that you believe could make a movie. As a writer you have to turn that idea into a story and that story has to have people that you the writer have to create.

Let’s say you manage all of this and end up with a script and luck is on your side and a studio is interested in making it. What are going to say when asked, tell me about your hero?

Where’s he come from, what’s his background, how do you see him?

Hang on. Isn’t that in the script.

Is it?

Think Spiderman. Like it or not, a considerable about of thought went into the background of Peter.

His family, his inaptitude with girls, his geekist intelligence and even his demeanour, some of this is shown to us, some of it is hinted at and the rest is how we see him from what we are shown.

For any film to really work the characters have to do the work. And that means actors.

The more material you give an actor the better their performance and the closer they will be to the character you created.

In Thelma and Louise the differences between them is quickly established at the start of the movie, but as the movie progresses the role of decision maker changes.

To create great characters the writers will have gone to great lengths to know them before they put the into their screenplays.

That probably entailed a story outline and character profiles.

I know this sounds like hard work and it is, but one thing that comes out of this is believable characters who others can believe in.

Another and possibly the most important thing is; as the writer know the characters you are writing about, picture them, what they look like, how they move and most importantly how they speak.

This helps when you create dialogue for them and because you know them that well, you can structure a change in their personalities as the story unfolds.

Even with earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes and other natural disasters, the event might make the initial news story, but it’s the stories of the survivors or ones that didn’t make it that makes the follow-up, the documentary or the movie.

Remember people watch movies that are about people going through events that they, the audience, really wouldn’t want to go through themselves or have success that they would like for themselves.

A good character is one your audience can relate to. So as the writer, the person who created the characters, you should know them better than anyone else.

As a member of an audience watching a movie, I’m watching a character being brought to life by and actor who, before the film was made, found out everything about the person they are portraying from the screenplay.

Sure Will Smith, Al Pacino, Kevin Costner, Tom Cruise, Jack Nicolson, Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis played an important part in bringing the characters mentioned to life.

Not forgetting the voices of Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker for the tin characters in space.

None of these actors made their characters up, they didn’t create their dialogue or invent the journeys we saw them make on the screen.

A screenplay writer did that.

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